Commercial flights are returning to Blackpool Airport and heritage trams are making a comeback in a double boost for the town.
Airline Citywing will be reinstating double daily flights between Blackpool and the Isle of Man and Belfast from April 1.
Following the closure of the airport last October and its reopening in December, Citywing and airport owners Balfour Beatty say they have been working to reinstate passenger flights. Managing director David Buck said: “We have remained committed to seeing this historic and vital air link reopen.”
In a second transport boost, vintage trams are set to become a major part of the tourism offer once more from the end of this month. Blackpool Transport revealed the historic fleet will be running regular tours this summer – after being scaled back drastically since 2012.
Last year the vintage vehicles operated for just nine days.
But from next weekend, some of the old trams will be out every weekend between North Pier and the Pleasure Beach until the end of the Illuminations and every day in the school summer holidays.
Bryan Lindop, of Blackpool Transport, and who is also chairman of the said: “The vintage trams are as important as the Tower or the Winter Gardens.”The Gazette revealed last month how Blackpool Airport was facing a race against time to return commercial flights to the Squires Gate terminal.
Since the start of the year people have been able to book seats on flights heading to Belfast and the Isle of Man, but as of the end of February no deal had actually been reached to allow the flights to take place.
But Citywing has now announced the flights will go ahead as planned from April 1.
Mr Buck added: “We are so pleased by this positive conclusion to our negotiations with Blackpool, and that it will be open once again for flights to the Isle of Man and Belfast from April 1.
“We would like to extend our thanks to the UK Civil Aviation Authority and both airports for their assistance in bringing these discussions and plans to a positive conclusion.
“With 14 return journeys each week to choose from, we are delighted the many thousands of passengers who have flown on this route previously will once again have a cheap and frequent air link between the communities of Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and North West England.”
The news has been welcomed by town hall bosses, who said it was a “good start” and a potential building block to the return of a wider range of commercial flights.
It comes just days after Chancellor George Osborne announced that land around Blackpool Airport (pictured) was to become an Enterprise Zone, with the potential to create thousands of new jobs over the coming years.
It is hoped an influx of business to the area, incentivised by tax breaks and business rate rebates, will also help secure the future of the airport as a viable business.
Coun John Jones, cabinet member for highways and transport, said: “As far as I am concerned, it is really good news flights have returned to the airport.
“It is a really good start – hopefully we build on it and commercial flights can return.
“The potential number of passengers boarding in the Isle of Man is around 70,000 people. All these people could be coming to Blackpool by air.
“The news comes on top of the recently announced Enterprise Zone. Now we want commercial flights to return. The council and myself have worked really hard behind the scenes. It just goes to show the hard work is paying off.
“Commercial flights are a decision for Balfour Beatty. All along I have wanted commercial flights back in. If we get the passenger side back up and running it’s good news.”
Meanwhile, campaigners have today also hailed the return of the vintage trams to the town’s tourism offer.
The move is in marked contrast to the last two years, when tours have only taken place on bank holiday weekends.
The nightly Illuminations tours will continue as usual every evening during the Lights. There will also be monthly Dine and Ride tours in partnership with town centre restaurants, and Santa Specials in December.
A new trust has been formed to protect the future of the trams, and Blackpool Transport has recruited Martin Gurr from the National Tramway Museum to be its dedicated heritage operations manager.
Bryan Lindop, customer services co-ordinator at Blackpool Transport, and who is also chairman of the Blackpool Heritage Trust, said: “Over the last two years the heritage operation has been geared towards the enthusiasts, but this year it is being significantly increased and will be part of Blackpool’s tourism offer.
“We get an awful lot of comments from members of the public about the vintage trams, and now we are increasing their chances not just of seeing them, but of riding them.
“They can operate alongside the Flexity trams and all the technical problems of the past have now been ironed out. We also hope revenue from the service will help protect the future of the vintage fleet.”
The service will be run by Blackpool Transport drivers who have volunteered to drive the heritage trams, and 30 members of the public who have volunteered to help out, including to work as conductors.
Jane Cole, managing director of Blackpool Transport, said: “One of the things that hit me when I came to Blackpool was the fact people said, ‘where are the heritage trams? People have missed them.
“We have spent a lot of money maintaining and restoring the heritage fleet and these trams belong to the people of Blackpool. So we want to showcase them and we going to roll out a really good service which will be a great visitor attraction.”
There will be up to 22 journeys a day as part of the daily tours, with two heritage trams expected to operate at any one time.
Blackpool Transport has 32 heritage trams in total and of those 18 are operational, including the three illuminated trams. It is hoped to use the popular open-toppers when the weather is good.
However people can only board at the dedicated heritage tram stops. Most tours will be between North Pier and the Pleasure Beach, although some tours will run to Little Bispham, and there will also be special tours to Starr Gate and Fleetwood.
Neil Jack, chief executive of Blackpool Council, said: “We fully support Blackpool Transport in reintroducing a more regular heritage service.
“We know the heritage trams are extremely popular with visitors and residents alike, and we look forward to seeing them running up and down Blackpool Promenade throughout the season.”
Helen Mansell, vice-president of hoteliers group StayBlackpool, said: “I think this is brilliant.
“People love the heritage trams and those visitors who have been coming to Blackpool for many years have a strong affinity with them.”